Feb 8, 2024 - News

Iowa's war on books now targeting public libraries, group warns

Illustration of a bookshelf with rainbow-colored books wrapped in "do not enter" yellow tape.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

The Iowa Library Association is warning that public libraries across the state would have to close or greatly reduce their services under a bill introduced in the Senate last week.

Why it matters: Modern libraries are essential for many Iowa communities. Most provide resources that extend beyond literature, including human services and free loan programs for household items.

Catch up fast: The initial draft of Senate Study Bill 3131 would repeal the state law requiring local governments levy taxes for its public libraries.

  • Another section would allow cities easier ways to change a library board's makeup.

Of note: The bill was introduced by Sen. Jesse Green (R-Boone), who voted to advance legislation prohibiting local governments from restricting LGBTQ+ conversion therapies last month.

State of play: A subcommittee hearing on the bill was delayed Monday but Green still met with library supporters, Sam Helmick, a spokesperson for the library association, tells Axios.

  • Green, who didn't return our requests for comment, agreed to remove the section of the bill that could revoke library taxes, Helmick said.
  • Emma Stoffer, a librarian from Muscatine, wrote in public comments to the bill that the remaining sections remain problematic because they could strip current board structures. That would threaten the autonomy, integrity and financial stability of public libraries, she wrote.

Meanwhilea House bill was introduced Wednesday that would allow city councils to change how library directors are hired without asking voters for approval.

The big picture: The bills are an extension of a larger movement that is hyper critical and focused on books or libraries, Helmick says.

  • A state law passed last year that potentially removes school books like "The Color Purple" by Alice Walker from school library shelves.
  • A judge temporarily blocked it in December and noted the law was "incredibly broad."

Zoom in: Some of Iowa's public libraries have pushed back, including at the DMPL, where a limited-edition "I read banned books" card was introduced in 2022.

What they're saying: "I had a gut feeling this was coming. First they were picking on school libraries and public libraries were next," DMPL director Sue Woody tells Axios.

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